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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Friday, August 18, 2006

Surviving a Nuclear Strike

I`m a bit of a packrat. I hate to get rid of things I might be able to use, and I especially hate to get rid of books or pamphlets. As a result, my house has bookcases in every room, I have books piled in the attic, and have stacks of books scattered strategically around the house. I usually reread them at some point, or keep them for references, so they aren`t just taking up space, but it becomes easy to forget about some of them.

I had joined the Boyscouts when I was 11 years old, and one of the things Scouts do (besides camp and hike) is community service. I was going through some of my old books the other day and found a pamphlet I had distributed as a community service project back in the `70`s about Civil Preparedness-particularly about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Back then the Cold War was raging (despite Detente) and the fatalistic view that nobody would survive, so we should make no effort to save the populace had not yet firmly taken hold. (Mutual Assured Destruction gurus in Academia and the Council on Foreign Relations came up with the idea of making no provisions to protect the general public as a show of good faith to the Soviets.) This pamphlet gave nuts-and-bolts information on how to survive in the event somebody dropped the Big One, and the information contained is even more pertinent now in the era of terrorism and the possibility of a minor nuclear attack. Our chances of surviving a terrorist nuclear strike, or a North Korean one, are far greater than surviving a major thermonuclear attack would have been, but we need to know what to do if we happen to be unlucky. With that crazy Ahmadinajad making doomsday threats, I thought it would be germane to discuss the information in that pamphlet, and give an overview of the basics of surviving such an attack.

First off, the pamphlet presupposes we would have some warning in advance of such an attack-which we would if it would be a missile strike, but not in the event of a terrorist attack. If the terrorists strike us our first warning could be the nuclear flash itself. If you are in the blast area you can kiss your, er, gluteus maximus goodbye, but if you are in the peripheral area you can possibly survive by taking immediate cover. It works like lightening and thunder; the flash moves at lightspeed while the shock wave at sonic speeds. Depending on how far you are from the blast epicenter, you have from between a half second to maybe as much as a half minute to get ready. DON`T DAWDLE!!! If you can get between a building and the blast, or under a bridge, or behind something do so immediately. If there is nothing to hide behind, try to spot a ditch or depression in the ground. Curl into fetal position and tuck your head under your body as far as possible. Make yourself as small a target as you can. It`s a lot like surviving a tornado which comes on you suddenly-except this tornado has 1000* winds and is spread across the entire countryside. It will have ferocious energy, and will be hurling all sorts of debris.

If you have some sort of warning you need to get as far below ground as possible-preferably in the center of a heavy structure. It probably won`t matter if you are inside the blast area, but it might save your life if you are just outside it. Remember-the deeper below grade you can get the better. If you can`t get below grade go to the center of any building on the lowest floor and try to tuck yourself into a corner somewhere. Look for a structurally significant spot, one that might hold up under the blast. Failing that, do whatever you can to protect yourself; climb under any substantial object.

Never, ever look at the fireball; it could burn your retinas and you would be blind.

If you have survived the blast, or if you are outside of the blast area and the periphery, your next move will be to find shelter from the fallout. In the event of a terrorist attack that shelter may be as simple as leaving the affected area; civil authorities should be able to direct you in this regards. A single atomic device detonated by Hasan Bin-Sobar will put out some fallout, but it may not cause any serious inconvenience for those outside of the blast area itself. A number of nukes going off could lay down a major fallout pattern. Nobody can predict fallout patterns because they are predicated on the current weather patterns, and so it is up to the authorities to tell you where you are in peril. If you are in the fallout pattern, or if you are in doubt as to whether you are, seek shelter immediately. The first 24 hours of fallout is by far the most dangerous period, and if you are caught out in it you could die a painful, lingering death.

There aren`t many public fallout shelters these days, but some of the older buildings still contain them. When Eisenhower first proposed building the Interstate Highway System, the plan was to build giant fallout shelters under the highway overpasses, but this never got done and so there was never anywhere near enough shelters to protect the bulk of the populace. At any rate, if you know where one is it might be a good idea to go there, as they will be safer than most home shelters.

Very few people have shelters in their houses, but a deep basement can serve the purposes in an emergency. You want to be in the lowest part of your basement-ideally a spot completely below grade. The more mass you can put between yourself and the fallout the better. Fallout is dangerous because it is ``leaking`` subatomic particles, and those particles are passing through the cells in your body and ionizing chemicals which should not be ionized. What makes radiation sickness so dangerous is that the repair mechanisms of your body are damaged along with the rest, so it`s difficult to get well once you get sick. You`ll start vomiting, your hair and teeth will start falling out, you`ll develop bruises and sores all over your body, and will generally look like a refugee from ``The Night of the Living Dead``, or one of my old girlfriends. At any rate, it is a painful, sickening, unpleasant prospect which can be avoided if care is taken.

That care means building a makeshift fallout shelter for yourself; if your basement doesn`t have any part completely below grade you will need to stay close to the ground. Stack some furniture for walls and put a couple of doors for a roof to your shelter, being careful to observe where the basement rises above ground. Stack anything with a lot of mass on top of the doors; sand, cement, dirt, etc. Don`t forget that water is a fairly dense material which can act as decent shielding, and you will need plenty of water for drinking, cooking, and washing. You can fill coolers and place them on top of your shelter. If you have a child's swimming pool that would be ideal-fill it up! You really can`t have too much water, and it serves double-duty. Don`t be afraid that the radiation will contaminate it-only the fallout particles themselves are radioactive, and they can`t infect the water. You do need to be careful to avoid bacterial contamination, like always; a couple drops of bleach in your water will help sanitize it and won`t hurt you (we did it all of the time with questionable water when I was a Scout.)

If you are short on time and have to make do with what is inside the house, don`t be shy about using anything you have for protection. Books aren`t great, but they will help protect you if you pile them up. Boards, laundry, mattresses, anything will help. Once you have your shelter be careful to close the sides in as well; radiation may be coming in on a slant from the windows. It would be a good idea to close the windows in, if you can.

You are going to need things while in the shelter, and these things are vital. Water is the number one item on the list; you absolutely HAVE to have it, and you`ll need a bare minimum of half a gallon a day per person (you`re going to want much more than that). Plan for a worst-case scenario-have at least a two week supply. If you failed to plan, and the bombs have cut your water supply, you can drain water out of your toilet tank (not bowl). This is fresh (or reasonably so) and you can drink it. Food, too, is something you`ll need; keep some canned or dried food on hand, and be sure you have a can-opener and utensils. You can eat the food cold if need be, or, if you prefer, you can buy a propane stove or even use Sterno candles to heat the food. You`ll need some blankets and mats and pillows, because you`ll be sleeping in there for a while. If the strike is in winter you may not have heat so you may want heavy blankets and clothes.

A working radio is critical; without it you`ll have no idea when you can leave the shelter. Keep one handy. If you have poor reception in the basement (which would be good since it means the basement will probably block radiation) try attaching a wire or coaxial cable to the antenna with duct or electrical tape and pushing it out the nearest window. Don`t block the windows completely; you`ll need some air to breath. Just leave them cracked a hair and block the area below the top with mass.

Light, too, is something you`ll need to eat, drink, and defecate, so be sure to have some flashlights. You may want a couple of oil/kerosene lamps or lanterns, and you could even use a gasoline or propane light. Be sure to keep enough oil, gasoline, propane, and batteries on hand. It`ll be really tough if you have to do without light (there shouldn`t be any coming into your shelter from outside.) Oh, and be sure to have a bucket to use for going to the bathroom, along with toilet paper. You may want to include some bags to put the waste in. You`ll have to store this in the shelter for a couple of days, then you may be able to toss it out after that, but do so very quickly during the first week or so.

DO NOT DAWDLE; you`re life is worth more than your comfort, and you can live without many of the things which I have suggested for a day or two, at least until the radiation level has dropped enough for you to stick your head out for a couple of minutes. Once the fallout starts dropping you MUST be in that shelter!

Don`t forget to provide for your pets, if you have the time, and be sure to get them into the shelter with you-they can`t survive any better than you can outside. Remember to allot about a half-gallon of water for them, too.

If your house doesn`t have a basement it may have a crawl space; open the floor and dig down into the dirt under your house for a shelter. If it has neither you can either build a shelter in the center of your home, or dig a pit in the yard, cover it with some plywood, and cover that with dirt; you may not have enough time to pull this off, however. If you manage to get into an incomplete shelter keep working, but keep low! The longer you are exposed the worse it will be. It`s vitally important that you find some shelter immediately. Time is of the essence!

Unless you have a Geiger counter or other radiation detection device you will need to monitor the radio for information. Don`t come out until the authorities tell you it`s safe. Two weeks is usually enough time, but wait to be certain-it`s your health and life. You may have to sleep in the shelter for months after that, but you should be out of the shelter in a couple of days, then outside in a couple of weeks.

After emerging, be sure to sweep away any fallout particles you see (get rid of any that find their way into your house ASAP!!) These are still dangerous. You should keep them as far away as possible-even before you can leave your home.

Water with fallout particles in it can be filtered through cheesecloth; don`t worry about the really small particles that you can`t filter out. Don`t worry about fallout of dishes or utensils, either; as long as the visible particles are gone you should be o.k. You may want to wear a bandana if you are sweeping away a dusty batch of particles, and be careful to clean them off of you afterward.

If you have some potassium iodine pills, it wouldn`t hurt to take them-especially before the fallout starts; it saturates your thyroid so that radioactive iodine does not build up in your system but is expelled. It helps.


You can survive a nuclear attack if you are careful and follow these simple rules.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous DoomsDave said...

Wow - great tips and information. It does a body good to see that there are folks like you out there that still have hope and are brave enough to help others with this information if this terrible thing does occur. Thank you so very much for posting this.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Thanks, Doomsdave!

12:45 PM  

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